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Social Contract

Modern Formulations, Political Authority Versus Moral Principles, Hobbes And Rawls, Feminist Views, Bibliography

The "social contract" in the early twenty-first century is associated with the modern school of natural jurisprudence as crystallized in the seventeenth century (although earlier scholastics and humanists had also spoken of contracts, but differently, for example contracts between people and ruler rather than contracts that actually generate sovereignty). Yet there were preceding statements of central elements of social contract theory. The ancient Sophist Lycophron is sometimes credited with originating the idea of the social contract, and there are echoes of it in the teachings of Protagoras (c. 490–c. 421 B.C.E.) as well. The Roman author Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.) stated in his widely read treatise on rhetoric, De inventione, that social, legal, and political associations were the result of a primeval agreement to live together on the part of human beings who were previously in a wild and asocial condition. Likewise, St. Augustine (354–430) insisted that any true republic required agreement on the part of its citizens about the object of their love.

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